My husband and I have spent a lot of time in Spain, a country which has captured both our hearts and our tastebuds! Before we had children, you could regularly find us sampling pinxos in San Sebastian, touring the vineyards of Rioja or the bodegas of Jerez or perhaps lazily wandering from bar to bar in Sevilla, joining the locals for some tapas and a caña.
We are always trying to recreate the Spanish experience in London but, the truth is, the food you loved in warmth of the Spanish sun on holiday rarely tastes quite as good once you are back to reality. And, I hate to say it, but Spanish restaurants in the UK can be rather inauthentic and same-y. There’s just something about the format of restaurants in Spain that is hard to replicate in a country where life tends to be more fast paced than laid back and where cool and cloudy weather is more often than not on the agenda. The aroma as soon as you walk through the entrance and the convivial conversation in Spanish tones around the bar all add to the je ne sais quoi (or should I say ‘no se que’!) of Spanish dining. Even standing at the bar and wiping your hands on those crinkly non-absorbent napkins seem to be essential to the authentic tapas experience.
That’s why, when many years ago my husband, who was then my boyfriend, suggested we go to another Spanish restaurant in London I was sceptical. But he had been there with work and highly recommended it so I was willing to keep an open mind.
Barrafina Dean Street opened my eyes to how wonderful Spanish food in London could actually be. They don’t take bookings, so you have to queue. Initially I thought that would be a bit irritating, but it wasn’t in the least. In fact, it truly added to the authenticity of the experience. Running along the walls is a very narrow strip of bar so you can order snacks and drinks while you wait. And there you will also find the crinkly napkins! At the main bar you will usually see someone carving thin slices of ham off a leg of jamón Iberico and the employees speak to each other in Spanish. Many of the clientele is also Spanish, which is always a good sign. It feels like stepping off the street in London into a tapas bar in Spain, and that is something special.
Last week I invited my friend to join me for dinner at Barrafina Dean Street but, being the August holiday period, when I arrived I was told the queue wait would be at least an hour and a half. We didn’t want to wait quite that long so we decided to try the Adelaide Street branch instead.
We were pleased to find there was a much shorter wait, the layout is very similar to the Dean Street restaurant and the menu is just as authentic. Whilst waiting in the queue, you can snack on delicious things like pan con tomate, Spanish manzanilla olives and various types of croquetas whilst drinking a glass of Spanish wine.
On the recommendation of the waiter, we tried “banderilla” which was on the “para picar” section of the menu and it didn’t disappoint! Two small skewers arrived, each loaded with tangy and slightly spicy guindilla peppers, salty anchovies and a quail’s egg along with a red piquillo pepper and an olive. As the flavours mingled in my mouth I immediately said to my friend, “This tastes like Spain!”. We also had the Padrón peppers which were as satisfying as always and I had a glass of one of my favourite Spanish reds, the Humilitat Priorat (I highly recommend it!).
After around half an hour we were seated at the bar and we ordered some sherry. My top sherry pick is the La Gitana manzanilla; it’s woody, briny and reminiscent of the sea.
After a quick perusal of the menu we ordered the oysters in gazpacho. The gazpacho was a stunning milky green colour and was a bit heavy on the sherry vinegar but wonderfully flavourful as a gazpacho should be. It complimented the creamy oysters superbly. Next we had the octopus, which was cooked in olive oil and paprika, perfectly soft and sprinkled with sea salt. We also had the prawn tortilla which oozed eggy deliciousness when we cut it open and is not to be missed.
After that we were full and it was getting late so unfortunately we didn’t stay for dessert or coffee, but I can tell you from past experience that their Santiago tart is fantastic. And I was drooling over the Spanish donuts (I say donuts and not churros as these were pillow-shaped rather than traditionally churro shaped) the lady sitting next to me at the bar was eating.
The staff are super friendly and helpful and make your time at Barrafina an experience as well as a great meal. I couldn’t recommend Barrafina more highly if you’re looking for delicious, authentic Spanish food in London!